August 21, 2011

dulce et decorum est . . .

Latin volo ut lego. I want to read Latin and comprehend what I read (at least to the extent that I can read Chaucer (which is not without some stumbles). So I've got myself a "Latin Made Simple" book and have been working through it.

A. tells me Latin was a difficult slog for her (at high school). All languages look difficult to me. Part of the difficulty with Latin for English speakers is that Latin, unlike English, is a highly inflected language.

I should have a slight edge here since I studied Magyar and learned it well enough to be given a Diploma from the Defense Language Institute West Coast Branch at the Presidio of Monterey, California. Hungarian is also an inflected language - the spelling of the words rather than their order in the sentence indicates the meaning.

The impetus for this was an old army bud, another "Monterey Mary" (as grads of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey are called), who used a Latin phrase that I thought sounded familiar but could not decipher. When I deciphered the phrase, I realized that it fit the conversation so well that I was jealous that I could not as easily toss these bon mots into summing up a statement.

I say "read Latin" because I have some expectation (hope!) of being able to do that - but there is small chance (shrinking to zero) that I will also learn to speak it - reading it out loud perhaps (like the Lord's Prayer which I understand a lot of people are able to read aloud).

As an aside - there is a story of sorts behind how I found myself at the Presidio in Monterey studying Hungarian. I did not do so well with trying to learn Spanish in junior high school, but ah well . . .

After high school I had decided to join the service with the hope of travel, etc. So, I went to the Army recruiter in Odessa, TX and was sent by bus to Abilene, TX for a physical. Well, I didn't pass the physical - I am deaf in my left ear. It is a birth defect and something that I was so used to coping with that it never occurred to me that the Army would think it a problem. They did. I wasn't accepted. So I tried again to pass the physical - and again was denied. I was in Albuquerque where my Dad lived and decided to give it one more go. As I sat in my soundproof cubicle pushing the button when I heard something in one of my ears - I just starting pushing even when I heard nothing. The midshipman giving me the test (don't know why I was being tested by naval personnel) stopped the test and spoke on the mike into my (good) ear, "Boydstun, you really want in that damn bad?" I said, Yessir. I soon learned that you don't say Yessir to midshipman, but there it was, I wanted in that damn bad. Anyway, the midshipman flung out his arms toward me, as though showering me with gifts, and exclaimed, "You're in the Army!"

I was in the Army. So I went to Monterey and studied Hungarian and was stationed in Germany as a voice intercept operator. In Germany, I was trained on radio receiver to intercept military voice transmissions. There were several of us in the same room performing a variety of intercept chores and we needed to inter react with one another - I was told to keep one side of my headset on one ear with the other ear exposed to the room so that we could coordinate as necessary. Well, I obviously couldn't keep my deaf left ear exposed to the room so I covered it with the headset and then propped the other side on my good right ear in such a way that I could hear both the noise from the receiver and the noise from the room. It was an interesting 2-3 years in Germany.

But I never felt the need to learn Latin until now. My Latin is good enough to read Wilfred Owen, but I want to go beyond that. And, as Poirot might observe, it should help keep the little gray cells active.

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